2017 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. VMI

…The Citadel came from behind twice in the fourth quarter against a VMI team that literally fought and clawed in an attempt to avoid its seventh loss in eight games and spoil the heavily favored Bulldogs’ championship hopes.

VMI, with its aggressive play, succeeded in making what happened while the clock was running a sidelight to the after-the-whistle skirmishes — even a fight that put a player from each team on the sidelines for the game. The two teams were penalized a total of 21 times for 183 yards.

The visiting Keydets’ strategy worked well. With 8:59 to play, they took a 24-20 lead, getting together an 80-yard drive that was capped by sophomore tailback Trent Bridges’ third touchdown of the day, a one-yard dive.

That put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Citadel quarterback Robert Hill…

…Hill and flanker Lee Glaze combined for 17- and 49-yard pass plays on the game-winning drive, the 17-yarder coming on 3rd-and-15 from The Citadel 12-yard line and Glaze taking the ball away from a VMI defender on the 49-yard completion.

Hill scrambled for nine yards and a first down to the VMI four. Two running plays by Mike Lewis covered the four yards, the touchdown coming on a one-yard plunge into the middle with 4:47 left to play.

VMI still had time in the Military Classic of the South, [but] The Citadel defense rose to the occasion, twice intercepting passes by VMI quarterback Jim Daly. Scott Thompson, a 260-pound sophomore defensive tackle, got the first interception on a deflected pass that Daly threw to avoid being sacked. Sophomore linebacker Joel Thompson made the game-clinching interception with a minute to play.

The News and Courier, November 4, 1984

The Citadel vs. Virginia Military Institute, The Military Classic of the South, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 28, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kendall Lewis will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs linebacker James Riley supplies the analysis. 

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

Game preview, The Post and Courier

– Where is the coveted Silver Shako?

Noah Dawkins: more sacks than the Visigoths

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is receiving votes, and would be ranked #32 if the poll went that far)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is receiving votes, and would be ranked in a tie for #34 if the poll went that far)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/24 press conference, including comments from Grant Drakeford and Aron Spann III (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/25 radio show (video)

– Promo for VMI-The Citadel (video)

– Review/highlights/postgame package for VMI’s game versus Western Carolina

– ESPN3 replay of Western Carolina-VMI (video)

Game story from the Western Carolina-VMI contest

– My review of last week’s game against Chattanooga

Link to ESPN3’s streaming coverage of VMI-The Citadel

Non-football links:

– Don’t forget to meet the Bulldog hoopsters at the game on Saturday; posters and three-point shotmaking to be had

– Caroline Cashion: “I want to play again”

Homecoming Week is here, with all the traditional activities associated with it. The schedule: Link

Since 1953, VMI has been the Homecoming opponent for The Citadel 15 times. The Bulldogs are 11-4 in those games, winning the last five matchups. The most recent such contest came just two years ago, with The Citadel prevailing 35-14.

In that time period, the only team The Citadel has faced more often on Homecoming is Furman (16 meetings). Therefore, this week the Keydets will tie the Paladins for most Homecoming appearances by an opponent at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

It should be noted that there were Homecoming games prior to 1953. Furman was the opponent for the first such recorded contest, in 1924. The 1953 season just happens to be the starting point for tracking certain statistical and historical information in The Citadel’s record book.

In 2018, The Citadel’s Homecoming game will take place on November 10, and the opponent will be Samford.

This is the earliest meeting during the season between VMI and The Citadel since 1991. That year, the game was played on October 26, and was held at the Oyster Bowl in Norfolk, Virginia. The Bulldogs defeated the Keydets 17-14 that afternoon.

When the series began, the two schools usually met in mid-October. After World War II, however, the matchup shifted to early-to-mid-November.

Beginning in the late 1960s, the game moved to a mid-season date (usually in October). That status continued until the late 1980s, when the series again became a (mostly) late-season clash.

In 1978, The Citadel defeated VMI 14-3 on September 23 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. That is the only time the matchup has ever been played in September. The latest in the year the contest has been held? 2005, when The Citadel won 22-14 at Foster Stadium in Lexington; that season, the game was played on November 19.

VMI has played Virginia Tech 79 times, which is actually more often than the Keydets have played The Citadel (72 times). However, the Hokies have not met VMI on the gridiron since 1984.

That will change in 2026, when the two schools are scheduled to meet again. VMI also has scheduled games with North Carolina State (2023) and Virginia (2020).

Virginia is another school that VMI has played many times (82 times, to be exact). The Keydets have also had long-running series with William and Mary (87 meetings) and Richmond (86), though neither of those schools has appeared on VMI’s schedule in the last few years.

Next year, VMI has scheduled non-conference matchups at Toledo and at Old Dominion. The Keydets reportedly will also play at Gardner-Webb.

In 2019, VMI has non-conference games at Army and at Marshall.

Fast mascot/nickname facts about VMI:

– Why is VMI’s mascot a kangaroo? Shouldn’t it be a rat?

Back in 1947, two VMI cheerleaders saw a picture of a kangaroo on the front of the magazine and realized how uncommon the animal was as a mascot. As one of the mascots was finally procured, a contest was held to give the creature an appropriate name. The prize winning name was “TD Bound.”

Later the name of the mascot was changed to Moe, because A) Moe wasn’t a football-specific name, and B) “TD Bound” was kind of dumb. VMI actually had a live animal mascot until the 1970s; one of the real-life animals was actually a wallaby and not a kangaroo. I guess the folks at VMI weren’t too picky about things like that (can’t say that I blame them).

– They weren’t always Keydets, whatever Keydets are…

In ancient days of yore the football team was known as the “Flying Squadron”. The Keydets moniker is only around 85 years old.

If you’re keeping track of old-timey nicknames for SoCon schools, here are a few:

  • VMI: Flying Squadron
  • Furman: Purple Hurricane
  • The Citadel: Light Brigade (this was a thing in the late 1930s-early 1940s, but it didn’t quite catch on)
  • Samford: Baptist Tigers
  • Western Carolina: Teachers (and later chose Catamounts over Mountain Boomers, an atrocious decision)

Scott Wachenheim’s first two teams at VMI won two and three games, respectively. His third squad is in danger of winning fewer than two games, which would make Wachenheim the latest Keydet coach to suffer through a one-win or winless season.

Wachenheim is VMI’s 11th head football coach since 1953. Of the ten men who preceded him in the position, all but one had at least one season in which the team went winless or won only a single game. The exception to that unforunate rule was Wachenheim’s immediate predecessor, Sparky Woods.

Woods won at least two games in all seven seasons he coached the Keydets. Admittedly, in five of those seasons (including the last four) his squads won exactly two games.

Conversely, The Citadel has had 14 head coaches over that same time period — and in none of those seasons (65 in all) have the Bulldogs failed to win at least two games.

VMI is 0-8 this season, and has lost 14 straight games going back to last year. That is now the longest active losing streak in FCS, as last week Delaware State (helmed by Kenny Carter, a graduate of The Citadel) broke a 17-game losing streak by stunning South Carolina State in Dover, 17-14.

The slate for VMI so far:

  • Air Force crushed VMI in Colorado Springs, 62-0; the Keydets only picked up six first downs
  • Catawba, a Division II school, upset the Keydets 27-20, scoring the game-winning TD with 42 seconds to play
  • Robert Morris then shut out VMI, 23-0, the first time RMU had shut out an opponent in seven years
  • VMI opened SoCon play by getting hammered by Chattanooga, 63-7
  • After an early pick-six for the Keydets, Mercer scored 35 straight points and beat VMI 49-14
  • Samford defeated VMI 26-7 in Lexington after allowing the Keydets to score on the game’s opening drive
  • Furman broke open a close game at halftime, beating VMI 42-10; the Paladins had 523 yards of total offense
  • Last week, Western Carolina won 26-7 at Alumni Field, matching the Samford-VMI score

VMI will not have a bye week this season, playing on eleven consecutive Saturdays. After this week, the Keydets travel to Johnson City to face East Tennessee State on November 4, and then will close out their 2017 campaign at home versus Wofford on November 11.

Statistics of note for VMI through eight games:

VMI Opponents
Points per game 8.1 39.8
Rushing yardage 694 1699
Average per rush 2.98 4.39
Average per game 86.8 212.4
TDs rushing 4 23
Passing yardage 1025 1992
Comp-Att-Int 109-218-15 140-223-4
Average per pass 4.7 8.9
TDs passing 3 17
Total offense 1719 3691
Total plays 451 610
Yards per play 3.8 6.1
Kick returns-yards 42-716 14-276
Punt returns-yards 10-65 22-205
Fumbles/lost 10/5 1/0
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 3.1/26.4 5.9/49.1
Net punt average 37.5 38.5
Time of possession/game 26:28 33:32
3rd down conversions 30/110 56/116
3rd down conversion rate 27.3% 48.3%
Sacks by-yards 16-119 18-129
Field goals-attempts 3-8 9-12
Red Zone touchdown rate 3-8 (37.5%) 26-39 (66.7%)
  • VMI is last in FCS in scoring offense
  • The Keydets are also last in offensive pass efficiency, in part because they lead the nation in passes intercepted
  • Offensively, VMI is 119th in third down conversion rate
  • VMI is 116th nationally in scoring defense, and 119th (out of 123 teams) in third down conversion rate allowed
  • The Keydets have not recovered a fumble on defense this season, and somehow have only forced one
  • In terms of turnover margin, VMI is next-to-last in FCS (ahead of only Bryant); the Keydets are -16 in that category
  • VMI’s net punt average is solid and ranks 28th nationally
  • The Keydets are the least-penalized team in FCS, as they have been called for only 3.1 infractions per game

The Citadel’s key stats through seven games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 24.9 19.9
Rushing yardage 2166 783
Average per rush 5.07 3.75
Average per game 309.4 111.9
TDs rushing 17 12
Passing yardage 691 1307
Comp-Att-Int 40-95-3 106-179-10
Average per pass 7.3 7.3
TDs passing 6 7
Total offense 2857 2090
Total plays 522 388
Yards per play 5.5 5.4
Kick returns-yards 14-263 17-419
Punt returns-yards 11-83 6-53
Fumbles/lost 14/5 7/4
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.4/38.4 3.1/31.6
Net punt average 36.1 37
Time of possession/game 34:54 25:06
3rd down conversions 51/111 24/73
3rd down conversion rate 45.9% 32.9%
Sacks by-yards 11-61 4-27
Field goals-attempts 4-8 2-4
Red Zone touchdown rate (20-29) 69.0% (13-17) 76.5%
  • The Citadel is 62nd nationally in scoring offense, and 24th in scoring defense
  • The Bulldogs are 14th in offensive third down conversion rate, and 24th in third down conversion rate allowed
  • At 42.1%, the Bulldogs’ pass completion rate is the lowest in FCS (out of 123 teams)
  • The Citadel’s kick return defense is 115th nationally (last week certainly didn’t help in this category)
  • The Bulldogs are 19th in turnover margin
  • Rush report: The Citadel is third in rushing offense and 22nd in defense against the rush
  • The Citadel is second nationally in time of possession (behind only McNeese State; two undefeated teams, Columbia and North Dakota State, rank third and fourth, respectively)
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in FCS in the “fewest penalties per game” category

VMI quarterbacks have thrown the football (or been sacked attempting to throw) on 52.3% of the offense’s plays from scrimmage this season. Counting sack yardage, 52.2% of VMI’s yardage has come via the pass, so the Keydets have been more or less the same in terms of effectiveness on the ground and in the air.

The current starting quarterback for VMI is Duncan Hodges (6’3″, 220 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Kimberly, Alabama. He is the younger brother of Samford QB Devlin Hodges.

For the season, Hodges is completing 53.0% of his throws, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt, with three touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also has two rushing TDs.

VMI’s leading rusher is Daz Palmer (5’10”, 180 lbs.), a sophomore from Norfolk. He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, with a long of 56 (which was a TD run against Catawba). He also had a 51-yard run versus Furman.

Palmer can also catch the ball out of the backfield — indeed, he had three receptions against The Citadel last season, including a 30-yarder. This year, Palmer has 18 catches, second-most on the team.

Sophomore wide receiver Rohan Martin (5’10”, 175 lbs.) has started all 19 games of his VMI career. He leads the Keydets in receptions this season, with 19. Martin had a 3-yard TD catch against Furman.

Martin also occasionally returns punts (and is listed in that role on this week’s depth chart). He had a 34-yard punt return earlier this season.

Javeon Lara (6’2″, 178 lbs.), a sophomore from Schulenburg, Texas, is a breakaway threat. The Citadel’s defense must be particularly wary of Lara, who had a 79-yard TD reception against Mercer and a 73-yard catch for a touchdown versus Chattanooga.

VMI’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 272 lbs. The largest of the group is right tackle Sawaar Canady (6’5″, 290 lbs.). Canady, a native of Newport News, is one of three redshirt freshmen who start on the Keydets’ o-line.

VMI’s defense is led by senior Allan Cratsenberg (6’3″, 223 lbs.), a tackling machine from Natrona, Pennsylvania. Cratsenberg was a first-team All-SoCon pick by the media last season after averaging 11.5 stops per contest. That included a 20-tackle day against The Citadel, the first time this century a Keydet had been credited with 20 or more tackles in a game.

This season, Cratsenberg (described by Brent Thompson as “smart and savvy”) is again racking up stops, averaging 11 tackles per game (and leading the league). He has 35 combined tackles in VMI’s last two games.

Cratsenberg has added interceptions to his repertoire in 2017. He has three so far this year, including a 60-yard pick-six versus Mercer. That interception return for a touchdown, by the way, is the only time this season the Keydets have scored following an opposing turnover, either on a defensive return or on the ensuing offensive possession.

Fellow linebacker Brian Lipscomb (6’3″, 225 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Hampton, is having an outstanding season for the Keydets. Lipscomb leads the Southern Conference in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (7).

During his radio show, Brent Thompson had a lot of praise for Lipscomb, saying he has a “knack for the football [and] knows where to be. He is very athletic…he did a great job against us last year.”

Ryan Francis (6’1″, 215 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Knoxville, is tied for second on the team in tackles, with 73. The linebacker also has seven tackles for loss.

Safety Greg Sanders (5’11”, 195 lbs.) also has 73 stops for the Keydets. The native of Memphis had nine tackles against The Citadel in last season’s contest (and also recovered a fumble). Now a senior, the three-year starter was a second-team all-league selection last year.

VMI’s starting placekicker, Grant Clemons (6’2″, 185 lbs.), is 3 for 7 on field goal tries this season, with a long of 39 yards (accomplished twice, both against Catawba). Clemons, a sophomore who began his collegiate career at Georgia Military, also handles kickoffs for the Keydets.

Something worth watching on placekicks: holder Jake Paladino (6’1″, 205 lbs.) is a quarterback, and it would not be a major surprise if VMI attempted some trickery out of a field goal formation. Last season, in fact, Paladino played quarterback against The Citadel in a relief role, and the redshirt sophomore fared rather well (completing nine of thirteen passes for 100 yards and a TD).

Paladino can also punt, but VMI’s primary punter this season has been Bill Hogan (6’1″, 217 lbs.). The redshirt junior is in his second season as the regular at the position. He is averaging 43.4 yards per boot.

Six of Hogan’s 49 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line; one has been blocked.

Mason Dermott (5’8″, 167 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore in his second season as the kick return specialist for the Keydets. He had a 71-yard return last season against Chattanooga.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 40% chance of showers, with an expected high of 78 degrees. The low on Saturday night will be 61 degrees, with a 70% chance of precipitation.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 26-point favorite over VMI. The over/under is 42.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 3-point favorite at Western Carolina; Samford is a 15-point favorite over Chattanooga; and Wofford is a 15.5-point favorite at East Tennessee State. Mercer is off this week.

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 14.5-point favorite over Georgia Tech; South Carolina is a 7.5-point favorite against Vanderbilt; South Carolina State is a 2-point home underdog versus Howard; Coastal Carolina is an 8-point favorite over Texas State; Presbyterian is 12.5-point home underdog against Kennesaw State; and Charleston Southern (starving for a conference victory) is a 3-point favorite versus Monmouth.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 46th in FCS, a drop of 2 spots from last week.

VMI is ranked 114th (out of 124 teams) in FCS, falling two places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 188th, while VMI is 414th.

Massey projects a final score of The Citadel 34, Virginia Military Institute 6. The Bulldogs are given a 98% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 21st (down ten spots), Samford is 22nd (unchanged from last week), Furman is 23rd (up four places), Western Carolina is 32nd (down three spots), Mercer is 40th (down six spots), Charleston Southern is 41st, East Tennessee State is 67th (up five places), Chattanooga is 75th (down five spots), Presbyterian is 84th, and South Carolina State is 95th.

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Western Illinois, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota.

– Since 1916, The Citadel has a 7-9 record in games played on October 28. The last time the Bulldogs played on October 28, in 2006, they defeated Georgia Southern 24-21. Tory Cooper had both a rushing and receiving touchdown in that contest; Duran Lawson was 18 for 27 passing for 201 yards and two TDs.

The Citadel has only one other home victory on October 28 in the last 65 years. In 1978, the Bulldogs defeated Delaware 21-14 on a rainy afternoon in Charleston. In that contest, The Citadel scored on offense (a 51-yard run by Stump Mitchell), on defense (an 84-yard pick-six by Joe Harvey), and on special teams (after Mike Cunningham blocked a Blue Hens field goal attempt, Mike Adams picked up the ball and ran 71 yards for the game-winning TD).

– There are no changes to The Citadel’s two-deep for the VMI game, the third consecutive week the depth chart has remained the same.

Through seven games, the Bulldogs’ starting lineup on offense has remained unchanged. The same is true for ten of the eleven starting spots on defense; the only exception came at cornerback, when Shy Phillips started the Wofford game in place of Tyus Carter.

– The Citadel has been outscored 56-35 in the first quarter this season. In the other three quarters, the Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 139-83 (including 90-41 in the second half).

– In eight games this season, VMI has scored a total of 17 points in the second half.

– Among VMI’s notable graduates are actor Fred Willard, playwright/screenwriter Fred Finklehoffe, and civil rights activist Jonathan Daniels.

– Baseball player Dan Crawford is arguably the most well-known VMI alum on the athletic side of the ledger. He later had a conspicuous career in politics.

– The roster for VMI (per its website) includes 66 players from the State of Virginia, slightly over 70% of the total number of players. Other states represented: Tennessee (6 players), North Carolina (6), Pennsylvania (4), Alabama (3), Georgia (2), Texas (2), and one each from West Virginia, New York, California, Maryland, and Kentucky.

There are no Palmetto State players among the Keydets, not even from pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. A quick Google search suggests that no player from that school has suited up for VMI in at least the last 35 years, which if true would be simply staggering. Not coincidentally, the Keydets have not had a winning season on the gridiron during that stretch.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The beginning of this post features an excerpt from the game story for a 1984 contest played between VMI and The Citadel. Why did I choose that particular game to highlight?

  • It was a Homecoming game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium
  • The Citadel had a solid team that year, while VMI was scuffling
  • The Bulldogs were heavily favored to win, and had a big game on tap for the following Saturday

Does any of that seem familiar?

I could have picked out several other games between these two schools with a similar profile. Bulldog fans of every era can remember games like that in this series. Some of them didn’t end on a positive note for the Bulldogs, either.

Heck, last year would have been a decent example. The Citadel was trying to complete a first-ever perfect conference campaign, while VMI was 3-6, but when the fourth quarter rolled around the Bulldogs were only up by three points and the Keydets seemed to have the momentum.

VMI tried just about everything in the trick-play handbook in that game, and some of it worked. Back in 1984, the Keydets apparently employed slightly different tactics, but the principle was the same — do whatever it takes to win this game.

“You can throw the records out when these teams play” is such a trite sports cliché, and one that is often not true — but it is very much true when these two institutions meet on the gridiron. Over the years, both schools have played spoiler.

Of course, this game is about a lot more than just conference standings or making a late-season playoff push.

It is the Military Classic of the South. VMI and The Citadel will both be ready for battle on Saturday. The action will be fast and fierce.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake, the greatest trophy in all of sports. The Bulldogs must do everything in their power to retain it, and keep it in Charleston, where it rightfully belongs.

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